Weeks 4-8

Monday’s are slow and begin tepidly. Their arrival can be unwelcomed as we feign a response to the brunt of work ahead. A reaction like this seemed inevitable, as likely and predictable as any farm task. To think about the week in any other respect would seem antithetical to the body’s exasperation after calmoring away in the fields. Work is hard. Persistent physical labor syphons away the body’s ability to recover. Each day takes another bite and does so mercilessly. And yet, the small, often times subliminal, offerings a day in the fields presents to the farmer give back the life necessary to do it all again.

 

So the need to observe these givings pours over with urgency. Our car rolls up to the northern edge of our farm and out beyond the gaggle of trees and shrubbery lies an deep and open space. With patience and fraught with a sense of stillness, we watch the margins of the horizon brim with hues of campfire orange and a ferocious yellow. Sunrise does occur before we step foot on the farm, but if we are lucky and early enough we view the changing of the guard happening above our heads. In little time the intensity we witnessed takes a precipitous change. Above us now is the majesty of blue skies, the color of infinity, the indefinite sprawl that blankets our existence.  An awakening of all forest and farm species, including and especially the farmer, happens accordingly.

 

When I think about the day ahead, I think of our restless pursuit of makeshift perfection. You’ll understand the premise when you look out to the secession fields, or the the sloping fields near the western terminus of our property. You’ll see it as pigweed, ragweed, thistle and clover take advantage of minimum space and light and occupy any last parcel of soil they can sever away from our crops. You’ll see it as a cabbage plant is ostensibly succumbing to unrelenting pests. You might think that their persistent is ignored, if not an unavoidable consequence of quelling our dependence on chemical inputs. We are chary to believe that there is any other method more beneficial and regenerative to land than having a dependence on human ambition and ingenuity. That organic farming accepts that human power, in the face of mechanization and a peddled narrative that farming can be done cheaply and still procure a sustainable ethic, bolsters the idea of having a undisturbed landscape.

 

The weed, at times caustic and unruly, embitters us. They are a determined bunch. They disturb whatever crop bed they infiltrate. Their presence is almost universally unaccepted. When they root up from the top layer of the soil, it is already a day too late to cut them loose. The old saying on the farm is to weed before it gets weedy, yet the farmer will only know of their weeds when it becomes weedy. So we undertake the task of evisceration. With scuffle hoes and backhoes we glide across the surface of our beds to remove the weeds wholesale. After while, shoulder muscles begin to ache and yearn for respite but are greeted with the reality: there is more to weed. So much more, even in fields where we believe we have done a masterful job, where the plants look untainted and the soil appears resplendently clear. It’s this guessing game that presumes us to be imperfectionists.

 

It is in pursuit of makeshift perfection that lays the ground for a beautiful day. The mere presence of these weeds underscores how the fields we work - once layered in foreign, destructive sprays - have matured back to health, able to support life in all its forms. The soil we till is no longer a bygone in the eyes of the landowner - it is as sacred as the glimmering morning sun. The crops we have planted surely take a beating by many unassuming insects and pests, but they are resilient because of it, as are we. We wonder the grounds in the morning with all of this on our minds. The invasion of flea beetles, the uprising of weeds once believed to be an afterthought, a casual stroll maligned by the feeling that things are out of control - all of this prods and saturates our apprehension out of dormancy. To battle back, we believe that makeshift perfection is in our best interests. The formula for such a practice to believe in the self as the pile of tasks reaches skyward. It is to believe that hard work and determination will only get you so far, but get you so far as to notice a sizeable and meaningful change in the landscape. It is to view the land as a work in progress, that appearances don’t matter as much as ethics and principle, that whatever becomes of the final product is much more than a day’s worth of harvesting.  

 

So walk around the fields and view all that we have planted, all the life that is supported by a system that pushes a standard far beyond conventional wisdom would tell you. Makeshift perfection seems like an odd phrase to use, and indeed it is. It is the best attempt we have at nurturing the land, and subsequently our food, to a resounding level of ecological health - an endeavour worth fighting with, not against.

 

Field Notes - Week 3

What does it take to enjoy the good times? After episodes of bitter cold and unsightly snow, days where the morning sun appeared - from muddied skies - only when the afternoon breeze pulled it out from hiding, it seems as though the unpredictability of weather is veering in our favor. We begin discarding our impenetrable layers of cotton and nylon and embracing the entrance of languid warmth. The winds, a gut punch of brute strength just a week ago, are markedly more docile as they whip up the chatter of tree top bird colonies, sending it ground level. Their tunes send a pulse of bliss and reprieve. A changing dynamic, a renaissance in and around the fields, is taking shape. When our vehicles rip toward the outer fields, a plume of dirt follows our wheel while a cloud of our tracks in left behind. In all this change, one can only surmise that spring is in the air, infiltrating our senses and giving us the prize of potential and promise.

 

For the time being, we are stowing away our shivering teeth and hammering jaws. The full reveal of spring and all its sensibilities are encroaching slowly, but with purpose. It takes the gradual realization that a cloak of beating sun rays and sleeveless shirts bring out the best of a farm. Our reverence of these months does not diminish the spellbound fascination of a brief winter’s day. In these days, we quarrel with the previous season in order to determine what captured our eye, what took root and blossomed, and ultimately, what failed.

 

Winter bears the burden of honest introspection. In the time it takes to reason with the troubles of last year’s harvest, new ground is broken. The new season begins when the setting sun dips below the horizon line, the frost riddled soil beds unbreakable with human hand. But in the time before field preparation begins, the world softens its color, muting the vibrancy found in towering sunflowers and blankets of lavender. The gestures we make in appreciation of the land - harvesting, seeding, soil preparation -  become rarities, if not only for the occasional check in. Solemnly, the farm retreats and weathers the uncertainty of scant production.

 

So do we assume winter to be the bad times? Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What one person views as a tapestry of bare bone beauty - snow covered canopies and the destitute activity - another might see as a dismal abyss where the only remedy is found in the months ahead. But the question - what constitutes the good times and bad times on a farm - is remedial in both scope and trajection. It’s unfit to cast type winter sanctimoniously. There is no joy in the awakening of spring if the trials of winter do not test a farmer’s patience. There is no renewal of life if it lives uninterrupted. There is no way to awe at the boundaries of depth your land holds if, for a few months, you cannot understand the invigorating nature of death.

 

The new few weeks will bring a lot of change to the farm, namely in the explosion of verdant field beds. As always, the greenhouse is the precipice of all doings on the farm, so we will religiously attend to the necessary tasks that await in there. A look inside will reward the onlooker with a canvas. Recently, the four of us here transplanted a bevy of eggplant and peppers, with seemingly an unending train of more on the way. Some of our vegetables have made it out of the greenhouse and into the fields. Onions, scallions, and cabbages (to name a few) have all been placed into the soil, furrowing the roots deeper and relying of the microbial life and nutrient content of the land to aid in their rise. It in in this process that we feel the invincibility of spring. Nothing feels unreasonable. No amount of swelter or muscle ache thwarts the necessity to keep on trudging forward.

 

As days become longer and light settles later into the night, the views we see magnify the bounty that awaits. Wind rhythmically sweeps rye and sorghum back and forth. Walk back to the barn and you’ll begin to feel the earth sigh in relief from behind. Days no longer wane. They seduce and boulder ahead, in anticipation of something just outside the scope of actualization. But it’s coming. What it is, we can’t say for sure. We are sure as heck are looking forward to it.

 

Field Notes - Week 1/2

 

As the growing season begins, Flipside Farm is tirelessly working to ensure that all components of our operation are humming. In the greenhouse and in the fields, our feet muddy, our hands dirty, and our muscles contract as the daily pursuit of staying on time with our schedule becomes much increasingly necessary. It's job that begets a fruitful season for our CSA members and customers. And it's a job that's hidden from a lot of you guys - the patrons and supports of our farm. The season roils forward while much of our daily interactions with the land, and many interactions with the organic food landscape, are unheard. This blog post and the subsequent writings will hopefully shed light onto what exactly happens on a pugnacious organic farm. If it could offer any clues as to why we do this, then we'll consider this a worthwhile venture. At the very least, we are interested in transparency and insight into this place we've made our home. Thanks for reading. 

 

 

 

Details of the farm begin to emerge as the early spring sun sluggishly awakes to the horizon. A barricade of pines, spruces, and oaks wall in the tilled land. Bordering the east perimeter is a forest where deer and foxes shuffle their feet and burst away from thrill-hungry hunters in blinks, and to the west a dirt road traverses the patchwork neighborhood of western New Jersey farmland, where an occasional, dim buzz of vehicle movement briefly distorts the sereine hum of a robin calling out to a mate, the shuffling feet of farmers dissecting the work ahead of them. During the morning of the whole crew’s first day together, pellets of snow dropped down as we skirted around the boundaries that make the 93-acre property what it is: a farm. The only difference being the produce we harvest is raised with the unconditional promise of growing in tandem with the land, not opposed to it nor in battle against it. Food that flourishes without the perplexing presence of industrial inputs like chemical sprays and petroleum-based fertilizers. Food that requires tractor work but dutifully relies on the functional inventiveness of a venturing farm its and crew. Food that is grown organically, for the benefit and nurturance of the land.

 

As we bear witness to the beginning of the growing season, we leave the unsavory memories and grievances of last season’s failures behind but take away tenets of objective lessons and teachings that can help better our understanding of beneficial agricultural practices. Some of us who come to Flipside this season possess little experience while others have run their fingers through the soil countless times, fully unaware of how many beds they’ve planted and how many looks out onto the horizon of the field they’ve taken. Yet both groups take the opportunities of the season anew, the idea being that the tumult and fervor felt the year prior will leave the seasoned group imprinted with accessible roadmaps and conceptual foundations to bring pastures and crop fields to life, while the unacquainted view the grandeur of the land, brimming with anticipation.  

 

As this piece is being composed, a week and a half has passed, and the ground are beginning to display the much awaited arrival of vegetables. Rows of garlic are pushing their stalks up through the mulch where their green stems soak in the radiant sun. Neighboring this bed are lines of chard and scallions, which are beginning to shoot their roots down, puncturing lower layers of earth, while taking shape in and amongst the soup of compost, organic matter, and beneficials sustaining them. In what will seem like no time at all, their size and stature will take a dramatic shift as they will out their portion of the landscape. The sight fulfills the soul, validating the strain our muscles labor through. The hours of punish a farmer’s body weathers become a bygone when the eyes gaze upon the finished product.

 

Those thoughts of exuberance and joy are with us everyday, perhaps a feeling carried in our pocket alongside cutting blades and pliers. In walks and discussions around the grounds, one can hear the bubbling, capillary excitement of what’s to come as our knees bend to the ground and our back muscles twinge and tense. What starts as a barren and wintry sight slowly unfurls decadence and might. Produce captures every portion of vision, periphery and all. In a matter of time, the fields will be laced with splendor. For now, they hold our fears and dreams, apprehension and reverence. As each day progresses, our attention roves around the farm, and the work to ensure our future success continues.


 

THANK YOU for your support in our inaugural season at Flipside Farm CSA! 

We’ve come a long way since our very very first Week 1 distribution back at the end of May!  Wow, remember the first crops of Spring?  We had incredible early kale, lettuce, cabbage, zucchini, bok choy, onions, kohlrabi….and perhaps some of the sweetest snap peas I’ve ever experienced!  And though we had a tough time with drought conditions in June, we pulled our produce through the hot weather to bring you a bountiful summer harvest loaded with tomatoes, peppers, okra, Swiss chard, spaghetti squash and melons.  Then the rains came almost daily in late July, and then again in August, to help us get our fall crops established in the ground.  Oooh la la, and what a payoff we had with our delicious fall carrots, loads of potatoes and root veggies, and a wide array of crunchy greens from escarole to tat soi to arugula.

Of course, we didn’t have a perfect year, but that’s to be expected with organic farming.  You may notice that there were a few crops we couldn’t grow so well (cauliflower succumbed to the harlequin beetles, spinach was plagued all season with fungal issues, and fall cabbage got burned by cabbage worms & the October heat), but we did have plenty of crops to step in to fill the gap!  In fact some of best crops of the year included our fresh onions, shallots, slicing tomatoes, sweet peppers, and blue-gold potatoes.  (Am I allowed to say flowers too? YES)  Our vast crop diversity is our CSA’s insurance policy.  I hope too that you’ve tried some veggies you may have never seen before – maybe you even have a new favorite now.  Regardless I hope you’ve had a truly healthy and delicious season filled with our fresh, locally-grown, chemical-free veggies.

Though the season may be over for now, it doesn’t stop here!  We’ve already begun the planning for next year, and the winter to-do list is already a mile long.    But we do indeed have some exciting plans for next year.  For starters, we’re doubling our production fields to grow more food on more acres – AND we’re going to grow some new varieties that we didn’t even attempt this year (I’ll save the dirty details for next season).  We’re also hiring more staff to come on board, and improving our online marketing & retail system to make more locally-sourced products easy for you to access.  Next year we hope to offer more events & workshops here at the farm to keep you connected.  Lastly, we need your help to fill out our year-end survey to give us feedback on your experience with this year’s CSA.  We are always adjusting the plan to make sure we bring you the most delicious and balanced CSA share each week.  Oh and did I mention?  We’ve just begun the paperwork to transition our farm to USDA Certified Organic.  We have an exciting future ahead!

All of this is made possible truly because of you.  The CSA model has succeeded over the past 30 years because of your faith in local agriculture.  Your support, trust, and involvement in our veggie CSA gets me out of bed every early morning and inspires me to work hard to build a productive, chemical-free, beautiful, sustainable farm that I can share with you.  I hope you’ll join us again for the upcoming 2017 farm season!!  We’ll kick off the season next year around Memorial Day for another 22 weeks of veggie greatness.

That’s all for now folks!  Stay tuned later this winter for our final 2016 newsletter.  You can always check out our progress via our website, or Facebook & Instagram @Flipside Farm CSA.  We hope to have you back again for our 2017 season.  It’s been a true honor to grow the healthiest food on the planet for you and your family.  See you again soon.

 

With best regards from your farmer,

 

Taylor

(On behalf of partners Brian & Meredith, apprentice Rachel, and the rest of the Flipside Farm crew)

USDA Organic Certification

Thanks to the support of good folks at NOFA-NJ (Northeast Organic Farming Association) and the educational assistance they provide, your farmer has decided to seek official organic certification from the USDA.

OK, so what does that mean?  Currently here at Flipside Farm CSA, we strictly follow organic growing methods.  This means we focus on achieving healthy soils to grow nutritious food.  No synthetic fertilizers, no GMO crops, no chemical pesticides or herbicides, period.   But we're not quite officially 'organic' yet.  To apply for the certification requires us to 1) begin ample record keeping now, and 2) to maintain organic practices on the land we're transitioning over from conventional agriculture.  We hope to offset the compliance expense by participating in the National Organic Program's cost share program.  That's all great news to me.  I figure that's not toooo much to ask from your local farmer, since we're already compliant.  Plus, you can take it as solid guarantee that we grow the healthiest food on the planet!

Our goal is certification by Spring '17 !!

"We strongly believe that healthy food is grown in healthy, chemical-free, biologically active soil.  Trusting the integrity of the environment, our farm utilizes practices that enhance soil tilth, conserve water usage, minimize carbon emissions, and preserve the ecology of the land."

Have any questions about our growing methods?  Send Farmer Taylor a message.

From the Trenches

Whew, it was a busy weekend for us out at the farm!  Our big project continues to be the GREENHOUSE.  We're aiming to have it finished in a few weeks to start propagating our veggie seedlings.

We're in the midst of running electricity, which means digging a trench. The big diesel truck almost made it home without issue, but alas...the alternator.... 'twas a bold project hauling and digging with a backhoe, but we got it done!

“How can a man appreciate the time of peace when he has never been in the trenches of life.” 

Building the Greenhouse

We started laying ground rods for our propagation house this December.   This is an important structure for us, as we'll be starting all of our plant seedlings here!  We've squared off the foundation and are racing the weather to get our base set before the ground freezes.

Many many thanks to Alex from Sandbrook Meadow Farm for his carpentry and sledgehammering skills - we couldn't have gotten this project off the ground without him!

Planting Garlic

That's right, last week we planted our inaugural crop in the ground this fall - Garlic!  We got it in late, but we caught a break with soil conditions.  And we couldn't have done it without the help of Jeff, Nick, Sam and Noah, who came up from Fernbrook Farm CSA to break ground.

We're thrilled to get going!